Monday, July 26th, 2021

Normani ft. Cardi B – Wild Side

One big-name clash deserves another…


[Video]
[6.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: No one is harder on Normani than Normani. The surgically cut phrasing on “Wild Side,” the stunningly intricate video, the expertly-curated Cardi B verse that lands with the gravity of concrete: they all exemplify the level of precision and control that she exerts on her music. And while Normani is amazing as an auteur, it can also lead to a painstaking process and music which sounds overthought. It’s been nearly two years since she’s has released new music, and she’s admitted that the delay has been the result of self-doubt and feeling in her head. “Wild Side”, unfortunately, shows some of these cracks: Normani has recounted that the writing and mixing process was full of anxiety, so much so that it was like writing a paper over and over again so much that she hardly even knew what it says anymore. The result? Although “Wild Side” is technically proficient — even excellently produced — it still sounds like the work of an artist chasing a level of unattainable perfection rather than allowing herself to authentically show herself. The world is waiting for what Normani wants to sound like unsaddled from any expectations — and just realizing her tremendous talent. 
[6]

Jessica Doyle: I know many of y’all (and us) want Normani to be a big star, and I get it, she’s very talented, but I don’t see how this does for her what either she or her fans want it to do. At least in “Motivation” she was the sole star, and the explicit focus of the video was showing her off. Here she’s upstaged first by the costumes and then by Cardi, who apparently did not get the memo that this particular Song of the Sufficiently Sexual was supposed to be bland (“I wanna put my pretty pink toes in your mouth” being my favorite line on first listen). In the short term, Normani looks like the hook singer on someone else’s song, rather than the main attraction. In the long term… I wonder if twenty years from now we’ll be having the same conversation about her being pigeonholed and leered at that we’re having now about the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera. The alternative would be to have that conversation now, and see if we can’t get Normani a song that’s actually interesting enough to do her justice.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Normani is a really good singer but she’s not really much of a rapper. Cardi isn’t good at singing and has somehow forgotten how to rap. The beat is so bare and so static it can’t settle into a groove. Cardi keeps saying believe me so much I can’t believe her. Normani does a bunch of OK Thugga runs. I can’t believe motivation had a 21 Savage remix. People need to stop biting Solange and work with Solange. Can we bring roll up back? This song is OK. Wish it had a Nezi Momodu verse. Cardi, this inhale is not it.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Other than an irritating vocal melody, I can’t find a thing wrong with “Wild Side.” From a formalist perspective, it’s excellent. To my ears, though, Normani lacks personality, and Cardi B raps as if she hasn’ t heard the rest of the song.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: From the Aaliyah sample (used so judiciously) to the deliciously filthy Cardi verse to Normani aping Beyoncé’s staccato talk-singing (not quite rapping), this gets 10s, 10s, 10s across the board.
[10]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: This is a Velvet Rope Janet song with a Cardi B verse breaking the joint. That is a compliment, really.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Normani’s PR campaign continues to be more impressive than her material. Cardi excepted, this is decidedly on the mild side: not striking, not sultry, just kinda there.
[5]

Monday, July 26th, 2021

Dave ft. Stormzy – Clash

Hitsville UK…


[Video]
[6.00]

Thomas Inskeep: You could call this “Clash (of the Titans),” since that’s essentially what this is: the two rap kings of the UK, together at last. Being an old-schooler, Stormzy is more my style (it’s just his flow), but Dave’s no slouch. The beat is a little too simple sing-songy until it switches up at 2:45, at which point it does a better job of supporting both of the guys. Not the dream collab I might’ve wished for, but still (so) solid.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: So this is actually much better than I originally thought. For one, it’s pretty heavy but also bouncy, with this heavy handed bass smushing the thin hotel pianos and flat hotel keyboards. Secondly, Dave’s “one” rhyme scheme is so surprising catchy I got kinda bummed he didn’t end the verse with it. Thirdly, Stormzy is surprisingly charming and funny on this one. (He also sends for Chip but at this point he needs to accept that he got got.) Finally, Dave wears a coat of all colors but never brings any attention to it. Truly a Jacob move.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: Minor-key menace on the instrumental, practiced effortless flexing in the verses: The formula may not fit a song titled “Clash,” and certainly left more than enough on the bone for the vulturine Chip to make a meal of, but neither Dave nor Stormzy is really trying to win anything here. Rather, this is a victory lap ’round an Aston Martin test track — undeniably, big flex is inventing one — or an exercise in shadowboxing, and both cloud-dwelling Brits have more than enough pop in their gloves and laconic wordplay in their verses (“My left wrist retired“; “Coulda penned ‘im one/’Ca you’re pendin’ one”) to do circles around their foes while the bass bounces off the ocean floor. Touching gloves and getting dirty might be more entertaining and would certainly be more true to grime, but why give and take body shots when sniper rifles are at hand?
[8]

Mark Sinker: First impression is maybe a clipped blizzard of signifiers of success (material, sexual, gang-martial), but behind the flaunting the tonemood is conflicted gloom at best — as if to say all these wins but are we really winning? When Stormzy jumps in after Dave, the energy does lift for a moment, but the slump beds back in, and we keep re-cycling through that chorus — tory-labour-corbyn-diss — that can’t avoid translating as a defeat.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: A not inconsiderable amount of effort has gone into the wordplay, but any chance it has of being memorable is quelled by a lifeless production which would do little for even a more expressive vocalist. If you hold an investment in Stormzy’s relationship with Mr Munk, perhaps there’s more; if not, at least there’s the telling implication of a world in which Corbyn still represents Labour, is consequently Prime Minister, and the song sounds considerably better.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: A gorgeous set of bars that cross each other like two arrows heading twain into the deep night; Dave’s voice has a kind of sadness that somehow still feels fresh to behold, a bored affect that remains subtly moving. And when you scratch the record’s surface, you find out that the jokes he and Stormzy exchange are about pensions and mortgages and, in some way, one can’t help but think this underlines grime’s still-fundamental resistance to escapism.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Dave, morose as ever, is ably upstaged by the sharper and funnier Stormzy (“the machine got sweets, on a vending one”). UK rap’s dearth of imaginative producers in the mainstream continues to pose an issue.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Less epochal than the credits would suggest, and all the better for it. Less complex than the pairing would suggest, also all to the better. I suggest Dave find a girlfriend worth the Labour. 
[7]

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

The Kid Laroi with Justin Bieber – Stay

We await the extended remix, “Stay (Justin Bieber Bit Longer)”…


[Video][Website]
[5.22]

Thomas Inskeep: More along the lines of what I expected from “Motley Crew,” this is propulsive, has a key lyric in “I’ll be fucked up if you’re not around me,” and in the most remarkable feat, Kid Laroi and the Biebs actually harmonize quite well. I like “Stay”‘s frenetic quality — these guys are in a hurry, to save themselves perhaps?
[6]

Ian Mathers: You may need them to stay, but you both forgot to provide literally even one compelling reason for them to — hell, most of the song is just spent admitting to knowingly lying to this person. The generically singsongy track with two essentially interchangeable vocalists isn’t helping much.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Charlie Puth, you rascal, stop using your powers for evil!
[3]

Oliver Maier: Whining lights.
[4]

Al Varela: I can’t tell if The Kid Laroi is growing on me or if he just found his niche in pop music. Guess he’s more like Post Malone than I thought, working best in angsty pop over the attempts at trap-influenced pop which expose him at his ugliest and least likable. At least the desperation in “Stay” works well in tandem with the waves of synth and crashing percussion. It allows both Laroi and Bieber to put their all into it enough to show the cracks in their voices, but not to a point of annoyance. It feels less like they’re forcing their vocals and more like in their hyperactive rush of emotion, they’re desperately reaching out for that last chance that they likely don’t deserve, but still want more than anything. It’d be easy to dismiss the song’s sentiments as childish guilt-tripping, but their agency is what makes the song so special alongside the brilliant production from Blake Slatkin, Charlie Puth, Omar Fedi, and Cashmere Cat. The latter I’m positive contributed to the best part of the song, the final chorus where every blast of synth feels like a firework exploding in the distance. That last push you need to seal the deal or die trying. And that explosion of angst-tinged euphoria is what keeps me coming back and second-guessing my feelings on The Kid Laroi as an artist. Well played.
[9]

Alfred Soto: “Blinding Lights” drum program, decently deployed obscenity, annoying as hell octave leap. Had we reviewed “Stay” in Miami, I’d have worried about Song of Summer vibes.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Justin Bieber does not sound like he’s 10 years older than The Kid Laroi. How can this even be possible? I wonder if I’m the only person who hears the intro this and thinks it’s perilously close to “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and, additionally, that both actually do well with it. The climax at the second chorus where the beats are like little tremors is really cool, and I’d have appreciated if there was another escalation, another repetition, a bigger climax. But if the lyrics to this are ick, everything else is slick, so they probably knew what they were doing.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Bieber should have been saved for the afterburner remix. It’s not that his presence degrades the song — it’s easy enough to imagine him at the helm instead — but more a case of the imperceptible difference he makes to it weighing it down with the reality of commercial imperatives. The hectic roboscape they find themselves in is more distinctive though, and the pace makes their dramatics more ingratiating.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: One of the craziest things is that The Mid Kid Laroi has largely been happily accepted by the rap community despite not being a rapper or even white. One of the less crazy things is that Justin Bieber is apparently honorarily black despite consistently persistently, forever and ever showing he doesn’t deserve it. And we definitely don’t deserve these guys doing bad Usher and Juice WRLD ripoffs while being awful to their partners. But we did, so I’ll just listen to the plinking synths and flat-footed drums and tune out the emotional abuse going on… cuz that’s what everyone would not do if this had been Usher and Juice WRLD.
[4]

Saturday, July 24th, 2021

Jonasu – Black Magic

(Checks reviews). Not a single Love Island reference. Yes!!!


[Video]
[4.86]

Oliver Maier: “Black Magic” hits on something compelling right at the drop, when it’s just the distorted vocals bouncing off the brassy bass. Jonasu makes sure to spoil it with all of the usual gym-house accoutrements before I get too attached.
[5]

Ian Mathers: The more the vocals here get left alone in center stage, the more this feels like a verse/chorus/verse song, the less compelling it is. During that chorus, where the vocals start getting treated more like a sample (both in processing and deployment), that’s when “Black Magic” really starts to have some frisson. Feels like we’re one good remix away from something really special.
[5]

Iris Xie: At this point I don’t really know how to write about UK house music — I could listen to it in a hundred different variations and never get sick of it, so it feels a bit unfair to try to write a review of this. So I’ll just break it down: 1) It has a chorus with a huge kick 2) It has a lot of squelchy bass that also kicks very hard 2) it has the necessary interpolation of horns and staccato chopping of the title that it is endlessly hummable 3) The guest vocal has the weighty elation needed to vibrate along with the hype of the instrumental 4) it is definitely designed to be a memorable soundtrack to a crazy good night out. I don’t live anywhere cool enough that would actually play this in a club (thanks, Sacramento) but I’ll play it with my bestie and we’ll dance during another lockdown.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Combine pretty much every pop-house record to have been a UK hit in the past 3 years in a blender, and you’ll get “Black Magic”: diva vocal, build/drop, the infinite influence of MK (only watered down), a lyrical theme of how much the female protagonist is into the person she’s singing to. So it’s not bad, exactly, but it’s not at all exciting, either. It just is.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: A great improvement for RANI, who takes her imitation of Rihanna to new and almost soulful heights even if the lines would crash most cringeometers, so it’s hard to say precisely how much of an accomplishment that is. For some, skill will eventually be measured by taste — but perhaps not yet.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Fairly generic house thumper in most ways, but I like how the progression from the verse, to the chorus, to the reprise of the chorus with the bass getting a little deeper echoes the increasing carnality of a night out after finding prey. Magic, voodoo, yeah, that’s basically moon/June stuff these days, but that’s easily ignored too. Passes the dancefloor test, not that I’m near one, but were I resident in Boris’s post-Freedom Day UK, I wouldn’t risk COVID to rush to the floor for some grinding.
[6]

Michael Hong: The choppiness of the vocals lends a lot of push and pull to “Black Magic,” even when the lyrics are all about want and tension. Jonasu attempts the same idea with his production, never letting it play out, but instead popping the beat in and out. Dance music shouldn’t be about overthinking things, yet the back and forth of both elements overcomplicates it, making it hard to give yourself to the track.
[4]

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley – Freedom Was a Highway

And we’re not turning for the exit here.


[Video]
[6.57]

Jeffrey Brister: I always feel like I want more from country music. More drama, more flourish, more emotion. It doesn’t have to be more sophisticated, I don’t care about that — I just want it more concentrated, a more densely packed version of what I’ve got. “Freedom Was A Highway” gets close, all bluster and bombast, but it ultimately feels a bit constrained. Hemmed in by its own convention. But this is pretty good, just not big enough for me.
[6]

Oliver Maier: I would not have clocked that two different people sing on this without the credits to help me out. Melodically docile and lyrically ticking off all of the country nostalgia clichés, though there’s a stirring 80s bigness — and a very nice guitar solo — that mean it’s hard for me not to feel fond of this.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Finally, a song making headway on country radio about summers and the past that’s not a string of endless clichés (lookin’ at you, Luke Bryan and all your minions). On top of that, Paisley’s not sounded this good in years — maybe a guest role, not having to do the heavy lifting, better suits him these days? (And of course, his guitar solo rips.) Allen’s got a slightly thin, but lovely voice, and he pairs well with Paisley. This is the kind of record that mainstream country should be aspiring to be.
[8]

Iris Xie: This strongly makes me believe ‘inoffensive’ should be its own radio genre. I’d be pretty happy listening to this at my dentist’s office.
[6]

Mark Sinker: *zizek coke-sniff*: “cynical reason is no longer naïve, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness yeehaw” 
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Those drums are big, boomy and as dumb as the metaphor in the title. But this bit of sunbelt pop would have sounded great between, I don’t know, “The Boys of Summer” and Mr Mister on the radio in the 80s, because as big as the bottom end in, it’s got a lovely lightness to its melody and Allen’s wistful voice makes this cheesy and fond rather than sickly. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: More sentimental twaddle, more pining for a parochialism the singers resented as young men. Keeping it afloat is the attractive vocal melody, the acknowledgment that young men stifled by small town parochialism turned to hip-hop, and a Brad Paisley solo expressing these ambiguities without effort.
[7]

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

LOONA – PTT (Paint The Town)

And shut it down…


[Video]
[4.78]

Leah Isobel: LOONA’s strongest material is lush, sleek, and featherlight. Their air is professional and restrained, almost buttoned-up, which means that in the war against BLACKPINK’s maximalist influence they’re at a heavy disadvantage. “So What” and “Why Not” got around this problem by focusing on forward momentum, introducing unexpected major-key modality, and by being well-produced. “PTT” keeps the second trick only.
[4]

Michael Hong: “PTT” hinges on heavy percussion and an onomatopoeic chorus, but rookie debuts by Hot Issue and TRI.BE sold it better by actually merging the two. “PTT” empties the drums right when it needs them most, flattening its chorus to be wholly uninteresting.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: Messages of empowerment aren’t new for LOONA. Nor is the head-smacking obviousness by which said messages are delivered. But what spoils “PTT” is the group’s failure to distinguish their own identity amid their trend-chasing. They play squarely to the Blackpink-patented girl-crush mode, while other girl groups have either doubled down on the chaotic bombast or added some tween cheesiness. It’s strange to see, because they’ve proven to be capable of so much more on their B-sides or the pre-debut solo tracks. And with the wink to iconography from Kim Lip to “Eclipse” or Olivia Hye’s declaration that she’s “like a wolf to the moon,” LOONA themselves make their past loom heavy.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The tabla grabbed my attention — was LOONA gonna play with Bollywood schlock? Alas. The detritus of a decade’s worth of pop song cliches raises a faint stink.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: As faithful a recreation of the garish mid-aughts era of pop as the Rina Sawayama album. Or actually, make that the era a few years later; you’ve got to go to the late aughts before you find stuff like the half-time breakdown and the part that almost turns into “If U Seek Amy.” It was a messy time, full of messy songs (exhibit A: the lyric “if you seek Amy”). But messiness, if looked at a certain way, becomes maximalism. And Loona certainly do the maximum here.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: I was going to say this sounds dated, like it might have been pitched and rejected for Britney’s Circus. It’s been brought up to date with some quasi-Bollywood touches, but these are so clumsily deployed that the whole thing instead sounds like an Azerbaijani Eurovision entry — not that there’s more than two degrees of separation between these things. “PTT” is just so unpleasantly shrieky in every way that it’s possible for a song to be. There’s just too much going on.
[5]

Joshua Lu: The Itzyfication of Loona has been ruining them for years, and this song is not their first to be noisy for the sake of it. But it is their worst offender so far, with those ersatz Bollywood beats undergirding members who aren’t even committing to the aesthetic. The vocals are too cutesy, and that ending chant wants to sound serrated but has the edge of a damp paper bag. The worst part is that this is also their most successful release so far, as it’s their first song to land on the Gaon Digital Chart. I don’t blame them for pivoting to commercialized pap — 3.8s on Rate Your Music don’t keep investors happy — but it miffs me a bit to see this once-innovative girl group chasing trends so intently. It’s almost like the music industry is soulless or something, huh?
[2]

Crystal Leww: This is definitely not the best LOONA single, and there are broader problems with the direction their music’s headed in, but “PTT” still bangs. Critics were less than thrilled about Lee Soo Man, who tended to chase trends to make hits rather than shaping the vision that had emerged during LOONA’s earlier era(s). And though I disagree with the assessment, mostly because I love a noisy, heavy EDM pop song, it is nice that the Bollywood influence makes this more than another dime a dozen. However, everything from the bridge onwards hints at a direction that would give LOONA’s act more cohesion, from the layered harmonies to the voicebox chanting to just lettting Chuu belt that shit out. LOONA needs to lean more heavily into R&B, but until then “PTT” is a fun single for the moon girlies.
[7]

Iris Xie: Initially, I was thrown off by how much this reminds me of an Everglow and Blackpink hybrid with its Bollywood homages and the militaristic verses, and was ready to write it off as “So What: 2.0.” But once the song takes off around 1:02 in the MV (0:50 in the song), when the deeper bass kicks in and lifts up the pre-chorus, I understood it more. “PTT” is menacing, with how the instrumentals glare amongst the punctuated vocals, and this only lets up with Haseul’s sharp but serene bridge. And K-pop does love menace. Amid the pretty visuals and rock-solid choreography, post-Jaden Jeong LOONA finally has a song reminiscent of the confidence of their much more experimental pre-group debut discography. If only they’d consider going back to that sound, that would be great — but “PTT” is a reminder that execution is everything.
[7]

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

Jessie J – I Want Love

“Though it is currently untitled, the project was produced by Ryan Tedder and has been teased as being a risk-taking project unlike anything the singer has previously released.”


[Video]
[5.30]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A disco-pop, key-changing, “Edge of Seventeen”-nodding chimera that doesn’t manage to be spoiled by Jessie J’s incapacity to be at less than 200%. In a parallel universe, this is a What’s Your Pleasure? Jessie Ware track, and it’s a [9]. 
[5]

Leah Isobel: A textured, disco-inspired stomper is a good fit for any British Jessie, whether J or Ware, and it helps that the former is tempering her performance here to the point that she sounds a little like the latter. Still, this lacks something in the way of subtlety – the hammy outro lets all the song’s tension go slack – and the title is sung way too many times. Don’t just tell me over and over that you want love, show me.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Wanting love is a very easy thing. We all want love in any form it might take, especially if it’s easy and quickly offered. But the love you need is never wanted. It slides in like a blade between your ribs. And for Jessie to say it so earnestly, leapfrogging the chords and disco drums, with the key change — that hits like a sledgehammer to your neck. Subtlety is not the watchword here. The love you need is already drawing blood from your chest, and it’s time to thump it to the breakdown.
[6]

Oliver Maier: You almost have to admire that Jessie J and co. have made zero concessions to the mellow state of pop, opting instead for something characteristically big and shouty. Problem is it’s, horrible to listen to. “I Want Love” apes about 20 other songs yet is so featureless as to exist in relation to itself only. Rarely has a key change felt less earned.
[2]

Iris Xie: It’s like a remake of CHIC featuring Niles Rodgers – “I Want Your Love”, but with a galloping ABBA instrumental and way more tortured. But it’s missing some fun — it’s a bit too fast and urgent for the listener to really take in its emotions. “I Want Love” sounds more like a perfunctory song in a forgotten musical, right before the too-quick resolution in the last ten minutes.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The lyric “Breaking all our New Years’ resolutions” is Lyttle Lytton levels of wrong: metrically clunky, not even slightly debauched yet convinced it is, just an absolutely inexplicable thing to put in a serious or even campy song. (Also: It’s summer! That’s pretty good as resolution-keeping goes!) I actually belly-laughed when I heard it — which, it turns out, happens quite a lot here. But give Jessie J Inc. this: I didn’t expect that to be what spoils “I Want Love” and not Ryan Tedder’s production — a huge level up for him, and a near-perfect pastiche of disco strings, the “Running Up That Hill” gallop, a key change that’s gourmet cheese, and the general dancepop desperation (a compliment) of Sandra’s “I Need Love.” Nor do Jessie’s vocals, while extremely… herself, ruin this; the belting suits the material. She attacks “I Want Love” with all the fevered virtuosity of a top-three American Idol contestant who knows she’s against two guys with acoustic guitars. (Which is sometimes what the UK charts feel like.)
[6]

Vikram Joseph: “Breaking all our New Year’s resolutions” is a weird one — does the night that Jessie’s craving with a sexy stranger involve eating loads of crisps, cancelling their gym memberships and reactivating her social media accounts? At least it stands out as a rare moment of personality in this slick, streamlined, highly competent and strangely joyless disco pastiche.
[5]

Alfred Soto: To quote Tony Curtis’ Sydney Falco from Sweet Smell of Success: if this is crazy, I’m a pretzel.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: This song is the very essence of the 💯 emoji in a lot of ways, though I wouldn’t stretch to 🔥. It’s so enormous, both in sound and performance, and so earnest that keeping that chorus going without it sounding silly by the end is the sort of intensely difficult high-wire act few can pull off. Really, Jessie J doesn’t, but I’m inflating the score just because of the difficulty.
[7]

Mark Sinker: The set of her chin always reminds me of the mom in Gremlins grimly mounting the stairs to do battle, carving knife in hand — and so does this song. Jessie wants love, she’ll win it (no quarter), and the romance will end in a blender.
[7]

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

J Balvin & Skrillex – In Da Getto

If this pattern holds, in about 20 years we’ll get an “In Da Getto” remake with different slightly altered vowels…


[Video]
[4.62]

Thomas Inskeep: Nothing against producers Skrillex and Tainy, but it’s David Morales and the Bad Yard Club’s 1993 house classic of the almost-same name that does the heavy lifting here, as it’s lifted almost completely wholesale. J Balvin raps a bit over the track, but honestly doesn’t add much of anything. You’re better off going back to the bangin’ original.
[4]

Will Adams: An uncomplicated song; Skrillex and Tainy do a quick remake of David Morales’ “In De Ghetto” and add in some J Balvin verses. Delta Bennett’s original hook remains the highlight, while J Balvin sits on cruise control. “Uncomplicated” could be a nicer way of saying “uninspired”, but since childhood I’ve had an affinity for house organ and Jock Jams CDs, so my foot was tapping.
[6]

Iris Xie: What’s that one song they play before NBA basketball games, or in Space Jam? The one with the very wonky synth? This seems like a weirdly watered-down version of it, or trying to not copy *the* hype song. If you’re going to try to not copy a hype song… make your own? But still, I don’t know if I can write a better comment than the one I found on YT: “Deberían de meter esta canción en FIFA 22!!” or “They should put this song in FIFA 22 !!”
[4]

Oliver Maier: J Balvin’s usual reggaeton through bloodshot hip-house eyes, maybe a little grime in there too — Skrillex and Tainy’s donk-centric production recalls the ruthless, self-insistent banger philosophy of Dizzee Rascal. J Balvin is solid but too terminally cool to really sell the mania; the more expressive Bad Bunny would’ve been my choice.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: J. Balvin rapping over reggaeton/garage made by Tainy and Skrillex is much better than I initially thought! Unfortunately, what I initially thought it would sound like is trash.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: Whoa, Skrillex! You’re still kickin’ around, huh? Well, he could’ve fooled me – other than the slightly-angrier-than-usual production on that kick drum there isn’t a trace of him here; besides, given how inexplicably dry everything is, I would sooner have attributed the instrumental to a demo track included in an off-brand budget DAW. J Balvin does his best to inject some energy into it but no amount of charisma can finish a track that isn’t finished.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: I think J. Balvin has released some of the most important music of last decade, but lately it seems that he has given everything he had to give. This is a great example: “In Da Getto” would have been much better without him. Skrillex did a great job in doing an explosive track. It’s short and intense, so I appreciate the spaces he left for the track to breathe. Meanwhile, J. Balvin is just there mumbling words without any kind of flow and that don’t make much sense. I can’t avoid thinking this was a missed opportunity for a great song.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Too short for revulsion, too long for this level of annoyance.
[3]

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Peach PRC – Symptomatic

We got our peaches out in Adelaide…


[Video]
[6.50]

Alfred Soto: It begins well: a worry her doctor’ll assume she’s day drinking again. Then the distortions, rhythm guitar licks, and yelped vocals make appearances. Someone’s trying to make a statement About These Times by hoping too many production choices will appeal to as many Spotify listeners as possible.
[4]

Will Adams: The track sparkles as any throwback synthpop should — I’m reminded of last year’s Kiesza album — but it’s not enough to salvage the lyric, which completely overdoses overdoes it with the health/sickness metaphors. Alcohol! Meds! Drugs! Narcissism! Hole in a solar plexus! (???) And, finally, the word “symptomatic,” which — after reading on a near-daily basis for the past year during the still-not-over pandemic — is not really what I want to hear right now.
[5]

Ian Mathers: It does make a certain kind of sense that a song about being a mess (and/or feeling like you’re a mess) is, lyrically, more than a bit of a mess. It’s also one of the only songs I can think of that addresses psychiatric meds with this level of bluntness and nuance simultaneously (the other one that comes to mind is The National’s “Graceless”), and even if I’m kind of squinting my eyes trying to parse how exactly “it’s all just symptomatic” cashes out here, I do keep getting the bit where her doctor is trying to talk to her stuck in my head.
[7]

Michael Hong: Peach PRC knows she’s being hedonistic, spilling a story of narcissism and indulgence under the rosy production of its verses. But “Symptomatic” never quite fulfills its promises, always too restrained, needing a chorus that joins in the pleasure instead of sinking into a narcotic haze.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Peach PRC’s soft, pleasant voice is far more muted and keening over the warm washed out synths and heavy handed kicks and baseball snares than it is over the glittery guitar, so when the chorus slams down, the vocal processing smudges her voice to the back of the mix, nearly swallowing it until the mix opens up, her voice brightened, then she disappears.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: One of those pop songs that just feels effortlessly great. Peach PRC’s vocals seem to hang from the rafters and swing through the room on invisible ropes; the synths fizz and foam like surf on a rocky beach, belying the song’s tricky themes. When you look past the giddy joy of the music, “Symptomatic” is one of the wittier, more thoughtful handlings of mental health in pop music I’ve heard lately. Through the eyes and wisdom of her psychiatrist (who Peach reckons, in a Fleabag-ish aside to camera, actually kinda likes her), we see her coming to terms with the fact that recovery is slow and non-linear (“Don’t throw out your meds cos you had a good day”). And when she tells us “I guess I’m crazy,” it doesn’t feel reductive in the way that, say, Ava Max comes across. It’s a glorious, summery bop that works on two distinct but inseparable levels.
[9]

Jeffrey Brister: Oh man, I’ve got another song to add to the Sadsack Summer Jam playlist, right after Merchandise’s “Time” and Motion City Soundtrack’s “Everything Is Alright”. “Symptomatic” cuts pretty close to the bone, its lyrics about self-destruction after a good day describing my past more often than I’d like. But it goes down really easy because it’s just fucking good. The sun-drenched lite-hyperpop production, Peach PRC’s successful Katy Perry affectation, the bouncy melody — I’m just in love.
[8]

Iris Xie: It’s been a long while since I’ve written for TSJ, but this is an extremely hilarious song to come back to at this point in my life, if only because it seems to combine this perfect nexus of mental health, bisexuality, and familiar pop music. The frazzled synths sound like Carly Rae on a come-down, and the tone is as lifting and sweet as any Taeyeon or IU solo, but Peach PRC does a successful job of pointing fun at her bisexual mess of a self, which I, also as a fellow bisexual, cringe at but only in recognition and laughter of a previous self gone by. There are many winning lines here, but “Think amphetamines are the only crystal that’d help,” is a clever play on the reality that one is prescribed chemicals in either form, crystal healing or “crystal healing.” Coming to terms with diagnosis puts you squarely in the box of chaos, where basically you decide whether you feel better. But what does that mean? Does that mean you continue the medications? How much does the psychiatrist trust you? Maybe you really are or are not okay. It ends up being an opaque kaleidoscope of observations, and we build a sense of trust with Peach PRC when she sings “The doctor says I’m manic. I think I’m manic.” I’ve had those moments too (well, hypomania) but it’s funny how coming to terms with when you’re the most de-realized is when you’re probably the most grounded and can start walking back to the place you need to be. Symptomatic, indeed, but at least you know where you are now, and no longer need peach colored glasses.
[7]

Monday, July 19th, 2021

BTS – Permission to Dance

No. Only we may dance.


[Video]
[2.71]

Juana Giaimo: Sorry, I can only enjoy two generic feel-good singles from BTS. A third was completely unnecessary. 
[5]

Dede Akolo: I’m staring into the void and contemplating how we have let Ed Sheeran get away with such heinous crimes against music.
[1]

Alfred Soto: The brightest tune Ed Sheeran’s written, “Permission to Dance” has a courtly attitude, the sort of tune carved from decades of pop culture ideas about high school dances. So insouciant about proffering platitudes over stop-start dynamics that I want Sheeran and his writers to compile them, Yoko-esque, into a mass market Grapefruit.
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Over-enthusiastically saccharine and awkward feeling, not unlike a school dance chaperone who might tell you to have fun, and then hover uncomfortably over you. 
[3]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: “Permission to Dance” sounds like a Disney Channel end credits song with all the fun and life sucked out of it. How lamentable that Western commercial success has brought the formerly creatively unique and truly vital BTS to such straits. 
[0]

Michael Hong: On last year’s “Black Swan,” BTS asked “what happens if I can no longer create as me?” The stirring and claustrophobic art-film suggested that they’d hold their artistic pursuits above everything, but their recent string of singles seems to suggest they’d rather cash in on soulless back-to-school COVID commercial jingles.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: Probably should’ve asked permission before going with something this unoriginal and unexciting.
[3]